On 14 February 2019, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with 350 kg of explosives into a bus, part of a large security convoy, carrying 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) at Pulwama (Jammu and Kashmir), killing them all. The Pakistan-supported terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack, the biggest on security personnel in J&K in decades.
JeM resorted to use of an improvised explosive device (IED) because of the high tally of Pakistan-supported Kashmiri terrorists killed by the Indian Army and security forces in Kashmir Valley in 2018 - almost 250 - a large number of whom were JeM, including its commanders.
The suicide bomber was Adil Ahmed Dar, a 19-year-old Kashmiri youth, described as a “chronic” stone-pelter and a classic example of the radicalization programme of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) which has ruined the lives of many Kashmir Valley’s youth. However, Pakistan’s directors of anti-India terror may never have imagined that the JeM’s attack would spiral into an all-India public outburst of anger and revenge against Pakistan and a debilitating air attack on its terrorist bases.
On 16 February 2019, at the 7th edition of the Fire Power Demonstration of the Indian Air Force (IAF), showcasing all weather day-dusk-night operations, the Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, addressing the gathering, stated: "We are showcasing our ability to hit hard, hit fast, hit with precision, hit during day, hit during the night, under adverse conditions through our autonomous bombing capability. While wars are fought few and far between, we have an ever-present sub-continental threat, the enemy knows that he can't defeat us in a conventional conflict. We showcase our ability to insert troops in enemy territories."
Was he hinting or suggesting that the IAF’s capability should be used against Pakistani-supported terrorists?
During the 11 days preceding IAF’s air strike, extensive media coverage of the mortal remains of the CRPF men and five other slain Army men being escorted to their respective home destinations, showed an increasing public anger being fomented, with slogans like “Pakistan murdabad” (death to Pakistan).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the attack would be appropriately responded to. Announcing some significant measures like denying Pakistan some Indus river water and most favoured nation status, India’s diplomatic offensive went into top gear. India raised customs duty on all Pakistani goods imported to India to 200% and urged the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) to blacklist Pakistan.
While many nations condemned the attack, efforts were renewed to move the United Nations Security Council to declare JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. China was the only nation to block the move, again.
The Indian community in Britain held protests outside the Pakistan High Commission in London. A delegation of Indian doctors cancelled their visit to Pakistan for the 13th Association of Anaesthesiologists Congress, organised by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, in Lahore on 7 March. Indian broadcaster DSport said it would no longer broadcast Pakistan Super League cricket matches. All Indian Cine Workers Association and Indian Film and Television Directors' Association announced a ban on Pakistani actors and artists in the Indian film industry, and stated that strong action would be taken against those violating the order.
An important and long overdue step to revoke security of Kashmiri separatists and their leaders has been taken, but until all separatists and their network are not put behind bars in states outside J&K, terrorism in Kashmir will not end.
On 26 February, in a befitting response to the Pulwama and related attacks, the IAF launched a pre-dawn, precision bombing strike on terrorist bases in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in Muzaffarabad and Chakoti in Pak Occupied Kashmir (POK) resulting in destruction of the three.
India maintained it had conducted a pre-emptive strike at terror camps at a time when JeM was preparing for a series of suicide attacks on Indian soil.
On 27 February, India’s air defence system was on full alert. Noticing a build- up of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) aircraft on their side of the Line of Control, additional aircraft were scrambled and effectively engaged PAF aircraft attempting to attack Indian Army locations. IAF’s Mirage-2000, Sukhoi-30 and MiG-21 Bison aircraft were involved in the engagement. PAF aircraft were forced to withdraw in a hurry, evident from the large distances the weapons dropped from their intended targets. F-16s, supplied by the US for use against terrorists in Pakistan, were used by PAF for multiple launches of the AMRAAM missile against India. Prompt action by IAF’s Su-30s caused parts of the missile to fall in the area east of Rajouri in J&K. A detailed report released by IAF nailed Pakistan’s lie of PAF shooting down a Su-30. This false claim was made by Pakistan to try to cover up for the loss of its own aircraft downed by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, flying a MIG 21 Bison.
Abhinandan’s ordeal included his aircraft being hit, him bailing out, falling into Pak territory, getting roughed up by the locals and eventually being rescued and seized by the Pak army.
His repatriation was delayed many hours without explanation by Pakistani authorities. A most likely reason for the delay was the large cheering crowd. The ‘Abhinandan moustache’ has become a hit with youth. The fallout of the loss of 40 CRPF personnel range, for India, from the good, the bad to the ugly.
Under the good category are reactions of India’s public, the current government’s actions and the responses of many countries. The US condemned the attack, assured it would work with India in counterterrorism efforts and urged Pakistan to stop sheltering terrorists, to cooperate with the investigation and punish those responsible. It also urged China to blacklist Masood Azhar. Bangladesh, Bhutan, France, Hungary, Israel, Maldives, Nepal, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates condemned the attack, as did the United Nations Secretary-General.
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi met with India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and, referring to both the Pulwama attack and the February 2019 Khash–Zahedan suicide bombing, said Iran and India would work together to prevent future attacks. Pakistan’s efforts to fool the world by conducting foreign media to a site well away from the building targeted by IAF failed miserably, after getting exposed by satellite photos and advertisement photos by the makers of the Israeli-developed SPICE-2000 (Smart, Precise Impact, Cost Effective) bombs used by IAF on the JeM building in Balakot.
The bad fallout is Pakistan stepping up ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks in Kashmir. While it can only be hoped that Pakistan does not raise the ante so high that war breaks out, India’s armed forces are taking no chances. Another great danger is Pakistan’s military leaders’ collective delusion syndrome, which was a major factor causing past wars.
The ugly fallout is, ironically, in India the apologists/leftists/peaceniks/human rights activists/pseudo-intellectuals/ beat all records of disbelieving the armed forces’ anti-terror actions, government’s decisions/deals, singing the enemy’s tune, stooping to unprecedented low levels of politics. A recent announcement of India having launched three "surgical strikes" (not two) from the Home Minister come as a surprise. In view of no let up on terrorism in the Valley, will there be more?
(The author, a strategic analyst and former Defence Ministry and Indian Army spokesperson, can be contacted at email@example.com)